Practice Notes logo


Vol. 24, No. 2
May 2019

Assessing Safety and Risk

Much of our work in child welfare is driven by questions.

Are these allegations true?

Is this person appropriate to be a temporary safety placement provider?

What should the case finding be?

Is this family making progress?

Can this child safely return home?

To answer these questions, we must be able to continually and effectively assess the safety and risk of children and youth.

When we can do this, things are more likely to go well. After all, assessments of safety and risk form a key basis for our decisions, including what actions should be taken to protect children from maltreatment (White & Walsh, 2006).

When we do not do this, we risk putting or leaving children and youth in harm’s way. Child fatalities are a grim example. Of the 1,018 children who died from maltreatment in the U.S. in 2017, more than a quarter (27.3%) had at least one prior CPS contact in the three years before they died (USDHHS, 2019a).

Because assessing safety and risk is so important, it should be no surprise that when the Center for the Support of Families (CSF) conducted an independent evaluation of North Carolina’s child welfare system in 2018, it sought to answer the question “Are children and their household members who come to the attention of the child welfare system through reports of maltreatment receiving a response that ensures children are safe from immediate threats to their health, safety, and future risk of harm?“

The conclusion CSF reached, unfortunately, was not always. In its preliminary report, CSF noted that “new information uncovered in CPS assessments is not consistently followed-up on or integrated into ongoing safety assessments“ and that “lack of consistent, quality face-to-face contact with children and parents in In-Home Services cases affects the state’s ability to assess accurately and respond to matters of risk and safety“ (CSF, 2018, p. 10).

This issue of Practice Notes seeks to support quality assessments of safety and risk in North Carolina. In it you will find practice tips from veteran child welfare professionals, consideration of the language and assessment tools we use, and an exploration of the link between successful family engagement and effective assessments. We hope you will find this issue helpful in your ongoing quest to improve outcomes for families and children.

Safety and Risk Assessment

A safety assessment is the systematic collection of information on threatening family conditions and current, significant, and clearly observable threats to the safety of the child or youth. The purpose is to determine the degree to which a child or youth is likely to suffer maltreatment in the immediate future.

Risk assessment is the collection and analysis of information to determine the degree to which key factors are present in a family situation that increase the likelihood of future maltreatment to a child or adolescent.

Source: USDHHS, 2019b


Contents of this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file

SDM: Tools to Support Decision Making in North Carolina

Practical Suggestions for Strengthening Assessments of Safety and Risk

Concepts and Terms to Enhance Assessments of Safety and Risk

Required CPS Assessments Course Is Being Revised

Assessing Safety and Risk Are Key to Timely Case Closure

Assessment and Engagement: Insights from a Parent

Safety Mapping Can Tell Us a Lot about Families

Family Engagement Learning Resources

References for this Issue

~ Family and Children's Resource Program ~